You can see a dance-focused FREE preview at Midday Music on Friday, March 29th:
Tickets are still available for the ONE Festival!
Our third and final installment of the Opera in Conversation for the ONE Festival ended with guests James Darrah, the Director of Les Enfants Terribles and Artistic Director of the 2019 ONE Festival, and Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, the Choreographer of Les Enfants Terribles. The pair has worked together several times before, including on Semele, which Opera Omaha staged in 2016. The collaboration has been successful and prolific.
Gustavo grew up in a small town of roughly two hundred people that was rich with music. Dancing has always felt natural to him, whether that be flamenco or contemporary styles. He’s found the role of partnering with a stage director to be interesting, as he has to envision someone else’s thoughts, not just his own. There’s a mutual respect between James and Gustavo; James comments that Gustavo “moves people’s spines like no one else”. It’s this mutual respect that lends itself well to the integration of the art forms together.
Both Gustavo and James are kinetic and visual people. James sees opera as movement, and has always felt that opera singers need to think more like dancers and be able to express using the body. “A singer can be technically amazing, but if they have dead great white shark eyes, then it doesn’t matter”, James adds. Gustavo’s incorporation of movement into an abstract staging completes a vision of impressionistic bodies telling a story through physicality. This story could not come into being without both dance and music driving the emotion together. What opera veterans may be astonished by in Les Enfants Terribles is that the actors and actresses move organically with the dancers. They dance together in a way that opera goers may have never seen before.
From the outset, Les Enfants Terribles has a wonderful foundation laid by Philip Glass, who conceived it as a dance-opera from the beginning. The source material by Cocteau, the novel Les Enfants Terribles, evokes deep and sharp emotions that are difficult to translate from a poetic view. James notes that “There’s a quality that seeps through it, and as a composer, setting it to music, it needed something that took it out of naturalism… needed to access a poetic dreamscape”. Glass devised the opera for three pianos and offered a lot of blank moments in the music to allow for creativity physically and performatively. In many operas the recitative moves the work forward-- in this case, bodies often serve in that capacity. Narration links the scenes together, but are delivered from the perspective of memory. A goal of the work is to make the narration feel as if the audience is being lead into a dream. Although the narration is in English, the opera is reflective of memory years earlier in Paris. The opera occupies liminal dream space and memory space. Dance can help the work transport the audience in ways that sound alone cannot. Ironically, the body, which is physical and tangible, is actually a spectacular vehicle for metaphor.
In Les Enfants Terribles, dance and voice are truly married together. One is not subordinate to the other. Watching the dancers is like watching mist fill the space-- they aren’t distracting, but are part of the setting itself. Dance and voice echo one another in very eerie ways. To be without dance in this particular opera would be like a person without a shadow-- incomplete. In many ways, this is indicative of an evolution of opera into a moving, breathing creature. Gone are the days of standing and delivering a sung line alone-- James insists that if a snapshot were to be taken of a body on stage every minute, the photos laid side by side should be able to tell the story as well.
In many ways, dance can teach a new language to singers about committing their bodies to the work and expressing their characters with more than just their vocal chords. Gustavo is pleased to explore the merging of dance with opera from both an artistic and systematic view-- upon sharing a stage with opera singers, dancers gain information about the herculean ways that a singer uses their voice. However, dancers also now have an opportunity to tap into a world of lavishness and opportunity with which opera has been privileged for hundreds of years. There is a feeling of greatness to an operatic stage, and we are immensely grateful to explore the many layers of expression that exist in performance that might not have been available to us without the inclusion of dance.
By Lillian Snortland
Opera Omaha Weitz Fellow